About this Recording
8.573265 - GRANADOS, E.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3 - Liliana / Suite Oriental / Elisenda (Barcelona Symphony, González)
English  Spanish 

Enrique Granados (1867–1916)
Orchestral Works • 3

 

From Orientalism to Modernism

This third volume in a series devoted to the orchestral music of Enrique Granados brings together three works that were written at very different stages in his career, and represent two very different styles of composition. The exotic touches of the early Suite oriental (1888–89) form a stark contrast with the Modernist sensibilities of a pair of mature works inspired by poems by one of Catalonia’s leading literary and artistic figures, Apel·les Mestres (1854–1936). The one-act “lyric poem” Liliana (1911) and the short suite for piano and orchestra Elisenda (1912) are seen as among the best and most representative works of musical Modernism, the artistic movement that dominated Catalan cultural life from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century. In both works, Granados reveals a pared-down idiom, bearing undisguised stylistic similarities to the worlds of Wagnerianism and Impressionism.

On 9th July 1911 Granados’s Liliana, setting Mestres’ Catalan-language libretto, was premièred at the Palau de les Belles Arts in Barcelona. That evening’s concert was conducted by composer Jaume Pahissa and also included works by Weber, Strauss and Pahissa himself. Although well received, this Modernist gem soon vanished without trace. Its manuscript was lost, with just a few fragmentary sections surviving in the Biblioteca de Catalunya. Decades later, in late 1989, British researcher Mark Larrad discovered the manuscripts of five stage works by Granados (four with texts by Mestres), hidden away in the archives of Parisian publishing house Salabert, which had acquired the works and the associated publication rights in the 1920s from one of Granados’s children.

The compositions in question were Miel de la Alcarria (1895), Petrarca (1899), Picarol (1901), Gaziel (1906) and Liliana, which is now considered a Modernist masterpiece. The poem on which it is based was originally written in 1907, Mestres later adapting his own work to create the libretto for Granados’s stage piece. Its protagonists are sylphs, gnomes, witches and other magical beings who live in an enchanted forest. Granados’s music conjures up a mythical world similar to those of works such as Wagner’s Parsifal, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh or Liadov’s The Enchanted Lake. The simple plot tells the story of the love between the water nymph Liliana and a sylph, or spirit of the air, called Flor de Lis. Composed while Granados was also immersed in writing the original piano version of Goyescas, Liliana was one of his last collaborative efforts with Mestres. It is one of the most significant works of his mature period, and also marks the high point of his relationship with the Modernist movement.

In an extensive (thirteen-page) letter written in French to violinist and impresario André Mangeot, dated 22nd October 1911, Granados describes the work as follows:

“The poem Liliana … is a series of scenes peopled by gnomes and flowers. Liliana is a flower who has been lovingly raised by the three gnomes, Puck, Mick and Flok … Each of them represents an emotion. Each has his own quality or gift: Flok represents the fauna, Mick represents riches and Puck poetry. Liliana grows up to be very beautiful, however, and one day someone arrives who will destroy their happiness … Love and youth arrive, and Liliana is stolen away.”¹

Granados also gave a detailed analysis of the score in this letter, including twelve musical examples. At the point at which he describes how Liliana leaves the forest to be with Flor de Lis, he mentions that this music later became an orchestral work (“There are long orchestral passages … These are in fact concert pieces.”²) and that his friend Casals had been moved on hearing the various sections of the work.

Although there are various manuscripts for Liliana in the Granados Collection at the Museu de la Música, Barcelona, there is no complete orchestral manuscript. The work recorded here, therefore, is a four-movement suite arranged by Casals, who conducted its première at the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona on 30th April 1921. It is possible that Casals and Granados had discussed this adaptation of Liliana before the latter’s untimely death.

Like so many of his contemporaries, in the late nineteenth century Granados was caught up in the Orientalism that was exerting such an influence on European cultural life at the time. Indeed, he embraced it: many of his piano and orchestral works feature the augmented intervals, chromaticism and attractive arpeggios and arabesques evocative of Middle Eastern/ North African music. Among such works are, for example, Moresque y canción árabe, Oriental (Canción variada, intermedio y final), Danza española No. 2 ‘Oriental’ and the Suite oriental (also known as Suite árabe), which he composed between 1888 and 1889, and which incorporates all the elements one would expect from a work with such a title. Granados’s characteristic compositional skill, sense of orchestral colour and melodic imagination combine in its four straightforward and unpretentious movements, two of which were later to inspire piano works from the composer: the main theme of the second movement, Serenata, was used in his Serenata goyesca, while the third, Marcha oriental, was transformed into a solo piece of the same name and included in his Seis piezas sobre cantos populares españoles.

The first, Ante el desierto (Facing the desert), opens in a contemplative but disquieting atmosphere, and acts as a kind of sombre, minor-mode prelude, full of subtle and mysterious touches, as if the desert were reluctant to give away any of the surprises in store in the following episodes. While still touched by the same orientalising air of the work as a whole, Serenata is perhaps the least “Moorish” of the four. It keeps the dominant minor key, and the phrases intoned by the woodwind are crowned by delicate arpeggios on the harp. In the last section, and before the recapitulation, the cellos have a chromatic theme full of drama and almost Tristanesque resonances, reminiscent in particular of King Mark’s monologue. In Marcha oriental Granados lets the exoticism flow freely, before it explodes into the two dazzling dances that form the final movement, in which it is easy to imagine the twisting and turning body of a cobra in thrall to a snake charmer’s pipes.

On 26th January 1913, the première took place at Barcelona’s Sala Granados of Elisenda, “a small suite”, based on the poem of the same name by Apel·les Mestres. The work had been completed by Granados a few months earlier, on 7th July 1912, and was written for soprano and a small instrumental ensemble of piano, two flutes, oboe, clarinet, string quintet and harp. It was originally a four-movement work, but the last movement, entitled El retorn o Final (A refrain, or the end), the only one that featured the soprano, has been lost without trace. The originals of the first three movements are housed in the Biblioteca de Catalunya and are dedicated to Casals and his then partner, cellist Guilhermina Suggia. Granados later adapted the work in various ways, creating a solo piano arrangement of the first movement, a piano/cello duet version of the second, and, finally, the arrangement for piano and chamber orchestra that appears here.

Elisenda is very much a work of Granados’s Modernist period. It is a descriptive work, dubbed by one critic after the première, at which Granados conducted from the keyboard, “exquisite” and full of “profound emotion”. The music is ethereal and woven from pre-Impressionist textures above which are heard in turn the voices of the violin, oboe, clarinet, cello and flute, the piano providing the backdrop throughout, while always making its presence felt, with much of its writing focused in the upper register. Writer Fernando Periquet, the librettist of Goyescas, described Elisenda as a “wonderful bucolic poem that evokes the charms of nature, blossoming flowers on sunlit mornings, and the perfumes of the forest”.

© Justo Romero

English translation by Susannah Howe

¹ Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, MFC G748.J43.

² Ibid.


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